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The Geneva Disarmament Bluff

“Disarmament” Conference Will Expose Imperialist Rivalries
and Aims Against the Soviet Union

(January 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 1 (Whole No. 97), 2 January 1931, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On February 2, 1932, the Disarmament Conference called by the League of Nations will convene at Geneva. This conference is to give consideration to the limitation of armaments by the various powers. It will devote much talk on the need to “outlaw” war as the means employed by nations to solve their economic and political differences and rivalries.

So uncertain and cynical are the capitalist powers on the matter of disarmament or even limitation of armaments, that for a long time there has been doubt that the Conference would even be held. But it will be, and each capitalist nation has or is selecting delegates who are to lie or to sow illusions on the prospects of peace for a war-weary world.

Characteristically enough, President Hoover has appointed Charles G. Dawes, Ambassador to Great Britain, to be chairman of the delegation from the United States Government. Dawes is one of the outstanding jingos in this country – a noisy war-monger who carries the appellation of “Hell N’ Maria” Dawes, a bitter foe of labor and the Soviet Union. The American delegation will, however, be perfumed with pacifist flowers, among them being Mary Emma Wooley, president of Mount Holyoke College. It is the same with the delegations from other capitalist powers. The bearers of pacifist illusions in a world armed to the teeth will mingle with the gentlemen who “keep their powder dry”, and the latter will prevail. Arthur Henderson of the British Labor Party will give the proper touch at Geneva through his selection as Chairman of the Conference. Thus the militarists, pacifists and the labor betrayers will make up a trinity of forces who will talk loudly against war and militarism, come to the conclusion that nothing really can be done now about the matter – and the capitalist nations will continue to strengthen their war departments.

The Cost of Militarism

Armaments and wars are very expensive affairs and no doubt the imperialist powers would like to decrease expenditures, particularly so, if by lopping off some small sums here and there, they can satisfy to some extent the demands of the workers and the petit-bourgeois middle classes for a reduction in armaments and their longing for peace. But in all these years of disarmament confabs, war “outlawry” and pacifist talk, the powers, particularly the United States, Great Britian, France and Japan have been increasing their armament expenditures. The following figures, compiled by the World Peace Foundation from the League of Nations Armaments Year Book, give the expenditures for the fiscal year of 1930:

Government Budget Expenditures

United States




Great Britain








War to maintain peace between the capitalist powers, and periods of peace to prepare for war again, are indeed costly matters – and, as always, it is the working class that carry the burdens, shoulder the guns, foot the costs – and then are honored with an “Unknown Soldier’s” grave.

A Fake Disarmament Conference

And now we are to have another fake “disarmament” conference to lull the mass of people throughout the world to sleep, into a false security on the possibility of the maintenance of peace under capitalism. The Secretariat of the League of Nations has organized live commissions for this conference to deal with the land, sea, air, budgetary and political phases of the negotiations. This is the same League of Nations that has listened to the guns roaring, the cannon booming and the airplanes tossing bombs on the fields of Manchuria – and did nothing because it could not. The League is not the instrument that can solve or even diminish the capitalist rivalries. That lies in the hands of the international proletariat when it awakens to the problem and becomes conscious of its own unused power.

Since the World War there has been a growth of pacifist illusions, peace societies, declarations of “conscientious objectors” that they will not bear arms in times of war, etc., etc. All the while there has not been a day without war in some part of the globe: semi-colonial and colonial wars for national independence, capitalist, warfare (Sino-Jap war in Manchuria today), wars of intervention (imperialist interventions in Soviet Russia, Nicaragua, etc.) and, lastly, the insurrection by an oppressed people against its rulers. Its highest and best expression was reached in the insurrection in Russia which brought the Bolsheviks into power and the dictatorship of the proletariat into being and by means of which the historical basis for the final elimination of exploitation and war was first laid. For with the assumption of political power by the working class which alone has no exploiting, imperialist or ulterior aims to serve, there will in time be needed neither an oppressive or suppressive governmental apparatus with its military concomitants, etc.

The Proposal of the Soviet Union

These are times to restate fundamentals of class struggle on whatever front it manifests itself. An exposure of the fake disarmament aims of the capitalist powers and proofs that disarmament or peace are impossible and utopian under capitalism, is an absolute necessity if the proletariat is to be able to fight effectively against capitalist imperialism, understand the causes underlying another impending world war, and give the revolutionary answer to the imperialists.

The Soviet Union long ago showed up the hypocrisy of the capitalist nations on the issue of war or peace when it made a proposal for complete disarmament of all countries and laid its program for disarmament and peace on the table. The capitalist nations ran from this proposal as if from the plague. With a single stroke the Soviet Union demonstrated that the capitalist nations were not seriously interested in the abolition of war, but only in such measures as would maintain the capitalist system and serve to fool the working people on this scourge of humanity – capitalist war.

Imperialist Rivalries

This is an epoch when the imperialist rivalries are not lessened, but, on the contrary, approach the breaking point and can find solution only in capitalist war or proletarian revolution. It is the fear of the latter possibility in an awakening proletariat that holds off for the time being the “solution” of the first, capitalist war. Does anyone with half a mind seriously doubt that, despite all the clap-trap about the “unity and close relations of the English-speaking people”, the contradictions and imperialist rivalry between Great Britain and the United States are sharpened? Or that, notwithstanding the visit of the “pacifist” Ramsay MacDonald to the United States, the economic basis for warfare between nations, with the United States and Great Britain as the outstanding rivals, has increased manifold in the past years? Only fools would deny the facts. It is one of the great capitalist contradictions that is heading the world into another convulsion.

A United States of Europe or
A Soviet United States of Europe

Pacifists and other well-meaning muddle-heads have raised the slogan of a United States of Europe as a solution to the war danger and other problems in Europe. Little or no consideration is given by them to the economic differences of the capitalist groupings in each of these nations that have caused these conflicts and that have no solution on the basis of a capitalist program. There are treaties and agreements between “little ententes”, among the Balkan States, France and Poland, Germany and Austria, etc., but no sooner are these understandings arrived at, then others break out – each steps on another’s toes.

It is hoped, therefore, that a federated or United States of Europe, a political agreement on a continental scale, could reconcile the grievances and differences. But all these agreements and proposals are based upon the continuation of the system of exploitation, of capitalist relations in the individual countries. This is an insoluble capitalist contradiction. No sooner would such a United States of Europe be formed, then it would already begin to disintegrate, to establish rival groupings and – there would be an end to the United States of Europe.

There can be a United States of Europe, but it must take the form, as L.D. Trotsky has so brilliantly demonstrated, of a SOVIET UNITED STATES OF EUROPE. In other words, there must first be the elimination of capitalist exploitation, of capitalism itself, before there can be a solution to its effects – militarism and war. The abolition of customs tariffs and similar barriers between nations can have a meaning only under such conditions. German-Austrian Anschluss, for example, therefore can have, under capitalist conditions, only a transitory significance.

Of the imperialist rivalries and contradictions in the Near and Far East, we need not comment. They are only all too evident. There is need only to cite the present war in Manchuria. The League of Nations has proved powerless there. The Disarmament Conference can once again in February “outlaw” war by passing another resolution – but the Japanese guns will boom and possibly others as well.

The Fundamental Struggle: For Capitalism or Communism

And lastly, there is the outstanding contradiction, the historical contradiction between the imperialist powers of the world and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. For this the “Disarmament Conference” has no solution except war. And it is this war against the Workers’ Republic, based upon the fundamental contradiction of capitalism and Communism, that the capitalist powers are preparing. There is no answer to the existence side by side of a capitalist world and a country aiming for the abolition of all forms of capitalist exploitation and ideology, except a struggle between them for supremacy. That can only be by the destruction of one and the victory of the other on a world scale. This economic, social and political contradiction in the world today – a capitalist world and a Soviet Russia – can find no solution, nor even a beginning of one, in a League of Nations, the Kellogg Pact or Disarmament Conferences. The answer can only be: the domination of international capitalism or international Communism.

The Soviet Union, under the aegis of Stalin, Litvinoff, et al., has most unfortunately assisted in the sowing of illusions, of pacifist nonsense, of fraudulent peace talk, by being a signator to the Kellogg Pact, a capitalist instrument aimed, in the last analysis, at clipping the wings of the Soviet Republic, disarming and destroying it. The propagation by the Soviet Union of the theory of peaceful co-habitation side by side, indefinitely, of the Soviet Republic and the capitalist world only plays into the bands of the bourgeoisie and the muddled pacifists and confuses the working class which must see the problem of war and peace as a class problem.

Pacifism – A Middle Class Movement

Pacifism, which finds its greatest expression and hope in “disarmament conferences”, Leagues of Nations, etc., has been swelling its forces numerically. In all countries pacifist movements have grown. Yet the pacifist movement is impotent to solve the problem of militarism and war. Pacifism represents the outlook of the middle class, the petty-bourgeoisie: it represents the flower of its idealism. We find here a diffused economic class, declassed elements too, caught between the main classes of society, the capitalist class and the industrial proletariat, crushed from all directions, also victims of capitalism, militarism and war.

Pacifism is the only way in which this group finds it possible, with its limited consciousness of today, to express its resentment and opposition to capitalist warfare. Students, overwhelmingly from the middle class, make up the “militant” section of the pacifist movement. But, when all is said and done, when the war drums begin to throb, they will answer the call of “Tommy Atkins” and the “doughboy”. Until these elements, the petit-bourgeois, grasp the class outlook, the proletarian concept of the causes of war, their movement is doomed to sterility.

“Conscientious objection, anti-war strike, and so on,” says Lenin, “are just stupidities, pitiful and poor-spirited dreams of unarmed struggle against the armed bourgeoisie, of the ending of capitalism without a desperate civil war or a series of wars ... Away with the parsonical, sentimental, absurd dreaming about ‘peace at any price’.”

That is why, too, all the post-war literature of pacifism, the horrors of war, have no lasting impression or genuine value for a solution to the war problem.

Militarism and War: A Class Problem

War and militarism must be approached by the working class from a class standpoint. They are class problems. War is a manifestation of capitalist society: it occurs when there is no other way out of the impasse of capitalist rivalries or rivalry today between contending social systems: capitalist society and the Soviet Republic. War remains as long as capitalism remains. Armaments, navies, armies, airships – all are unavoidable while these class divisions and rivalries exist. Capitalist Disarmament Conferences can do nothing about this – except to play the game of the capitalists. It is a matter of class struggle. Capitalist militarism has found in the imperialist epoch its class rival – the Red Army of the Soviet Union, the protector of the class interests of the proletariat in the Soviet Union and the entire world.

The future lies, not with pacifism, but in a recognition by the working class of the world that it must prepare the organization of all its forces for the impending final struggles between the workers and the capitalists. Not pacifism – but class war. Not “national security and defense”; not social-patriotism and nationalism – but international solidarity and organization of the proletariat.

The Geneva Conference will settle nothing; it has not the power to settle anything. Geneva will only serve further to expose the futility of pacifism, the impotence of the League of Nations, the rapacity of the imperialist powers, their unwillingness to give up any part of their spoils. The only thing peaceful at Geneva will be its peaceful waters. Otherwise, it will only reveal the imperialist contradictions once again and be a warning to the proletariat to be on guard.

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